Did you hear the one about the national leader who wanted to do another
go-slow on media reform to help the richest bloke in the country but
needed a diversion to distract attention from his latest grubby act of
corporate kow-towing?

Welcome to Australia in 2006, a nation that for decades has seen media
policy designed to help those that proffer political support come
election time, but now has the extra dimension of media moguls
helping construct the diversions when this happens.


The grubby deal is another highly cautious embrace of no-brainer
digital technologies that would open up new competition to the Packer family’s
media empire and the diversion is all this stuff in PBL’s Bulletin magazine today about advertising and board appointments at the ABC.

Helen Coonan should have been aggressively grilled on The 7.30 Report last night about the lack of substance in her discussion paper and Australia’s pathetic embrace of digital technologies. Instead, Kerry O’Brien spent half his interview talking about the ABC
because of this diversionary interview that Coonan granted to The Bulletin for an aggressive cover story.

Media Watch host Monica Attard labelled it a diversion when
talking to ABC Victoria’s Jon Faine this morning but ABC presenters
across the country were sucked in.

The PM has already killed the idea of advertising on the ABC, not
because it would be a good way to increase funding for Australian
content but because the Packer family and the other free-to-air
networks would not be happy to surrender a slice of the advertising pie.

The Packer forces lobbied hard to get Trevor Kennedy, the troubled
Offset Alpine shareholder with the Swiss bank accounts, appointed ABC
managing director when Richard Alston’s mate Jonathan Shier was sacked
in 2001 and now The Bulletin is pushing PBL director Sam Chisholm as the man to replace Donald McDonald as ABC chairman.

McDonald remains a personal mate of the Howard family but is not well
regarded in Cabinet because he “went native” and didn’t try to “change
the culture” – a euphemism for curtailing ABC criticism of the
government’s performance.

The ABC board is well and truly stacked with conservatives such as Ron
Brunton, whose Indigenous bashing almost sent the IPA broke, and Janet
Albrechtsen but there has been no discernible change to the content and
presenters. The simple fact is that the public likes the ABC as it is
and there aren’t the conservative journalists and presenters out there
prepared to work for a pittance.

Rather than spending $75 million a year subsiding digital upgrades and
simulcasting, perhaps the Federal Government should belatedly bite the
bullet and actually increase Aunty’s funding. After all, it seems KPMG
has indeed concluded that the national broadcaster is efficient and
chronically underfunded, but the only solution so far from Helen Coonan
is to fly an improbable advertising kite through the Packer empire
which was published on the day she had to defend another pathetic media
policy effort.

Oh, and don’t forget the policy was released on the eve of the
Commonwealth Games too. After 10 years in power, the cynicism knows no
bounds.

Peter Fray

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